William Tyndale was probably born in 1494 in England. Like many younger sons of a minor royal families he became a scholar and a minister of the church. With several degrees from both the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, he became known as an incredibly respected linguist and a young priest with very radical ideas about the church. He was enthusiastic about the reforms being put forward by the German, Martin Luther. His passion cost him his cushy job tutoring the children of a duke and tending to his private chapel.
Tyndale spent the rest of his short life wandering Europe, lecturing and teaching, in order to support his passion, an English translation of the bible. He wanted his countryman to read scripture in their own tongue. This was illegal and he constantly had to move in order not to be arrested. Tyndale did translate all of the New Testament and most of the Old Testament. His gift of writing in English made the language of scripture jump off the page. Much of his translation work was used one hundred years after his death in the King James Bible. The King James Bible is still used around the world, cherished for it’s beautiful language. Our modern translation read today uses language inspired by Tyndale’s work.
Tyndale was arrested and executed in 1535. Tied to a stake, they strangled him to death. His last words were not a curse at his executioners or a plea for mercy but a prayer for the king who arranged his murder, “O Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.” Once dead, they untied him from the stake and then burned his body in a huge bonfire, throwing his English bible into the flames. His life had been poured out as a libation for many.
“As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation and the time of my departure has come.” These are the words of Paul at the end of his life. Libation refers to a cup of blood that would be collected from the altar in a temple where a sacrifice of an animal had taken place. That cup of blood, would be poured out as a sign of sacrifice for God. At the end of his life, cold, bored and in prison Paul tells Timothy his sacrifice is like those at an altar, done for God on behalf of the people of God.
Paul saw redemptive value in sacrifice. When people of Christ endure, even pursue great and small sacrifices, they have an opportunity to witness their passion for God to others. Paul sacrificed all his life not just in death in order to reveal Jesus to the world. He did not marry in order to give all of his attention to spreading the Good News. He did not take money for church work, so as to build the trust of new converts. He travelled around the known world when travel was dangerous, rather than just set up shop in one city and let his subordinates endanger their lives on the road. He preached in towns where he knew he would be met with violence and imprisonment. All of his suffering was his choice. All of his suffering was a libation, a sacrifice poured out for God on behalf of the people of God.
Paul’s sacrifice mirrors the one who called him into ministry, Jesus. The sacrifices of Jesus first revealed the deep love of God. Not just the agony of the cross but choosing to live his life tougher, more complicated, than it needed to be. I mean, c’mon read the story. He is God, yet he chose to come to us as a peasant, raised in a village, with probably one shirt to his name and never a soft bed to sleep in. Jesus suffered so that we would know the depths of God’s love. His life was first poured out like a libation, now Paul’s life, and then many more, including William Tyndale, who sacrificed his life so we could read about Jesus in the beautiful language we speak.
My faith has been fortified by people who have sacrificed because of their great love of God. Jesus, Paul, James, John, William Tyndale, Martin Luther, there are so many to name. Including, Jim, a dockworker at Roadway Express when I was a supervisor. He took God’s commandment to honor the Sabbath seriously. He worked without a set schedule for twenty years, so he could be sure to have the weekend off. He would rather be on call, then use his seniority to bid into a schedule that would keep him from church. As a young man I noticed this. It inspired me and my faith.
My faith has been fortified by the sacrifice of others. Our church thrives because of the money your people share. I am thankful for every dollar put in that offering plate. Sometimes there are large sacrifices that teach me what it means to trust God with my finances. Not large gifts of money, but large sacrifices. A single woman in her 80’s on a small fixed income insisted on writing a check for $3000 because she wasn’t sure she would have it to give in a year as her health declined. A family whose husband lost their job continued to tithe what income was left even though their financial burdens had to be intense. They apologized that 10% of one income was less than they had given before.
My faith has been fortified by the sacrifice of others. Volunteers from these pews do the work God calls us, using their time, talents and passions. I am thankful for the sacrifice of each minute given. Pulling weeds on a cold Saturday, practicing choir on Thursday night, washing dishes Wednesday night, enduring with a smile a three hour council meeting Tuesday night, ladling food at the Y Family Shelter on Monday night. Sometimes your sacrifices are a powerful witness of God’s love. Bev Prater, married with two active children in school, a demanding job and until recently completing her MBA at night, oversees the finances of this church, taking on such a big responsibility when there are so many other demands of her time.
My faith has been fortified by the sacrifice of others. Sometimes the sacrifice that teaches me is when you people move towards your suffering rather than flee from it most like most of us would do. So many beautiful people here at Messiah I sat near as they died bravely and with faith so that my faith would stay strong. I have been moved by the witness of so many of you who fought your anger in the midst of divorce and strived to find a place of forgiveness, no matter how hard. I am struck by the brave sacrifice of the leaders of our grief group who weekly scratch at their own grief in order to help others beginning their own painful journey. There is real suffering in our world, and when men and women use that suffering for the sake of others, their lives become a libation poured out for all.
Jesus suffered to reveal God to us. Paul, Peter, John and many others suffered to reveal the depths of God’s love. William Tyndale and others have suffered to reveal God to us. These saints and so many more have fortified my faith. Might I be strengthened to be a witness of God’s love by my willingness, to sacrifice, even suffer so that might passion for God might be made known. Might I pour out my life as a libation for others. Amen